Considering the recent Equifax data breach which put an estimated 145.5 million American’s identity at risk, main stream media outlets are starting to ask an important question; if we can’t stop data breaches, how do we project our identity? According to data from the Identity Theft Resource Center, U.S. companies and government agencies have disclosed 1,022 breaches in 2017 so far. The idea that the social security number is the foundation of our identity is under more scrutiny than ever. Bloomberg reported recently that the Trump administration is considering ways in which it can replace the social security number as a means of federal identification. So, can blockchain technology solve our identity management (IDM) problem?
Blockchain is the distributed public ledger based technology that underlies applications such as the cybercurrency Bitcoin. Answers to whether such technology can be leveraged to solve our IDM woes varies widely. While distributed ledger technology seems to be very popular as a foundation for developing a better IDM mouse trap, blockchain in its existing form has many obstacles. The most significant obstacle is that Bitcoin’s blockchain was designed to verify and authorize transactions between anonymous parties with no third-party verification. Imagine if two parties needed to prove citizenship but Governments as the third-party couldn’t verify such information. Another challenge is that Bitcoin’s blockchain uses a ‘permissionless’ ledger. While the transactions are anonymous, the transaction information itself is available to any node on the system. A blockchain designed to provide IDM would need to be architected such that identity and transaction information remained private.
Despite the current obstacles, there are several organizations trying to overcome them and use distributed ledger technology to solve IDM related problems. Whether a specific application like Bitnation’s blockchain based passports and wedding certificate solutions, or it’s a true self-sovereign identity solution like Evernym’s open source Sorvin, it is clear blockchain technology has a role to play in the future of IDM.